For one afternoon, everything was perfect in the Trinity High School boys basketball team’s world.
The pace of the game was just right, the basket seemed twice as big, every pass seemingly found the hands of an open Hillers shooter, and the opponent was obliging with an alarming number of turnovers.
It all added up to 70-47 victory for Trinity in the preliminary round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs Saturday at Hiller Hall.
“Our guys had more time to prepare for this playoff game than we’ve ever had,” said Trinity coach Tim Tessmer. “They were chomping at the bit and ready to play.”
Nobody was more ready than the Hillers’ sensational senior swingman Michael Dunn, who scored on perimeter jumps shots, fast-break layups, daring drives to the basket, 10 free throws and even a tip-slam. It all added up to a sizzling 37-point performance.
“Dunn is a heck of a player,” said Kiski coach Will Saunders. “We wanted to take away any open space for him because he can knock shots down from everywhere. We knew he was going to score, but we didn’t expect him to have (37).”
Dunn entered the game averaging 23 points per outing.
Kiski (5-15) tried just about everything to stop Dunn but had precious little success. The Cavaliers tried playing him straight up, they tried faceguarding him, they even tripped him one time, resulting in an intentional foul. None of it worked.
“Dunn is so good,” Saunders added. “But even when he wasn’t scoring their other guys were doing a good job.”
Saunders was correct. Trinity (9-8) wasn’t a one-man show. The Hillers made eight three-point field goals, Nelson Grayson and Ben Hardy each had eight points and point guard Connor Roberts ran the offense effectively.
On defense, the Hillers made Kiski, with only two seniors on its roster, look like what it is – one of the youngest Class 5A teams in the state. Kiski had nine turnovers early in the game that helped Trinity build a 19-7 lead after one quarter.
“They jumped on us early and that the tone for the game,” Saunders said. “We were fighting uphill the rest of the day.”
The Trinity lead grew to 33-17 before Kiski managed to gain some momentum for the first time.
A three-pointer by Jason Flemm and four points by Isaiah Gonzalez pulled the Cavaliers to within 33-24. Gonzalez led Kiski with 20 points. Grayson, however, made a free throw and Dunn flipped in a driving shot at the buzzer that gave the Hillers a 36-24 edge.
“At halftime, we wanted to calm our guys down. (Kiski) did something on defense late in the first half that was going to take some time for us to adjust to,” Tessmer explained.
In the second half, Trinity played calmly and confidently. The Hillers held Kiski without a point for the first six minutes of the second half and outscored the Cavaliers 21-6 in the third quarter.
“They went on that 16-0 run to start the second half and then we were running uphill again,” Saunders said.
Tessmer credited Roberts, who had three fouls at halftime, for being able to play well into the fourth quarter without picking up a fourth foul.
“Michael is the focus for every opponent’s defense, but when you’re getting contributions from everybody, then it changes everything,” Tessmer said. “We were boxing out, playing with a lot of good energy. Connor Roberts did a good job of handling the ball. He’s a smart ballplayer. I told him he can’t pick up a fourth foul.”
Trinity knows it can expect the playoff road to get tougher. The Hillers advanced to the first round and will play Wednesday (6 p.m.) at fourth-seeded Highlands (13-5), the Section 4 champion.
“In the playoffs, it will take everybody’s best effort,” Tessmer said.